Ethan Rainwater is Dead by Gary Ives

Ethan Rainwater is Dead by Gary Ives

Los Angeles Daily News, 14 March 1925


Ethan Rainwater 80 yrs. old, a prominent resident of this city and eminent horseman died Sunday evening at his home in the Grand Palace Hotel.  Mr. Rainwater was born 24 July 1845 in Michigan.  Enlisting in the Union Army on the 28th day of October 1862 he served in Company B, 3rd Michigan Cavalry until honorably discharged on 14th day of December 1864 by reasons of wounds received at the Battle of Atlanta.  Mr. Rainwater was one of our last surviving veterans of the Civil War and also one of the last original Golden State Pioneers having crossed the Great Plains with the Ever Westing Oregon Company in 1877.  Mr. Rainwater is founder of the Golden Stallion Ranch and Stables, a successful concern he and his younger brother Eli built and managed for over 40 years. The Rainwater brothers’ ranch became well known for their superb line of thoroughbreds which include two California Stakes winners Thunderside and Eli’s Phantom.  Golden Stallion Ranch introduced the first quarter horses to Southern California in 1886.  In 1911 he and his brother built the luxurious Carrillo Grand Plaza Hotel where the Rainwater brothers resided.  He was a member of The Original Golden State Pioneers and The Grand Army of the Republic, Pasadena Chapter.  Private services will be held at Golden Stallion Ranch and Stables.  He is survived by his younger brother Eli.


Some seventy years ago we were ninety-seven emigrants in thirty-one wagons of The Ever Westing Oregon Company.  Captain Amos Holly who had successfully led an emigrant train to Oregon two years earlier had returned to Springfield, Missouri rather much the hero.  With the news that the captain was preparing another expedition, my mama, an impulsive and unsettled widow, just about ran to lay the fee into the captain’s hand then quickly set about to sell our farm and find a wagon.  “This here is an answer to our prayers, honey,” she told me.

It would be just me and mama, my father having been taken by consumption one year earlier.  Death, long in coming had rendered my poor daddy weak as a kitten and bed-ridden for the last years of his life.  It was from his sick bed that I learned to cipher, to write, and to read.  Lessons came from the Bible and his treasured gilt-edged volume of The English Poets.  His death left mama rattled and off balance. Her right hand shook with a constant palsy.  She often slept both day and night and sometimes walked outside waving her arms in the air, her head thrown back railing at the sky.  She talked to herself and complained to me of ghosts.  Barely sixteen years old and unusually small in stature, there was scarce I could do, save look after her as one would tend a child.  Her needs , cooking, cleaning, and tending our garden and chickens filled my every waking hour.  After the panic of ’73 we could no longer afford the hired hand who farmed our land and who was unwilling to work for paper script or shares. “We got to git ourselves off this farm, it’s way too much for us to handle,” she said to me, “and I got to git me away from these haints.”  The panic had rendered paper money near worthless and just about driven gold or silver out of circulation.  Ma and me fretted how we might get a just value from our pretty little farm.  I now know providence brought Mr. Ethan Rainwater to us, arriving one stormy night asking for shelter in our barn for himself and his horses.  He was a horse trader come to Springfield to join Captain Holly’s expedition.  A wound suffered in a cavalry charge at Atlanta had rendered the right side of his face paralyzed and had robbed from him the power of speech.  He communicated by signs and a slate he wore on a cord.  That first rainy night over a stewed hen, biscuits and coffee he offered to pay my mother for the lodging and stabling until the departure of Captain Holly’s wagon train.  Thus, he became acquainted with our situation, and that good man offered to help negotiate the sale of our farm, which, as it turned out, was a shrewd trade for a wagon, a yoke of two white oxen, a team of horses, and supplies of salt pork, bacon, flour, and beans and $500 gold. When the fast-talking auctioneer attempted to cheat mama, Ethan Rainwater showed him a quick sketch man with a slit throat and the crook handed over the little buckskin pouch of coins he’d filched.  

On the trail the man Ethan Rainwater made no friends other than my mama and me.  And with my mama it was perhaps more a matter of compassion than friendship.  Ethan’s dark-tanned skin and very private nature invited suspicion among the Swedes who made up over half the emigrants, very few of whom spoke English.  The frozen set of Ethan’s face in a kind of rictus prompted Swedes’ fat loud-mouthed preacher and de facto leader, Per Jensen, to claim evil eye and he cast Ethan as in league with the devil.  During the first week on the trail Ethan refused a request from Jensen who had pestered him to sell him one of is mares.  Afterwards Per Jensen set about annoying Ethan Rainwater particularly bad-mouthing him to his congregation.  On learning that Rainwater’s grandfather had been a Chippewa it was easy for him to denigrate the man.  Consequently, the emigrants kept their distance and exhibited a sour dislike and fear of him.  Asked a question Ethan would answer silently with a nod if possible or letters on the slate.  To the Swedes I reckon this seemed freakish, but in those days, weren’t wounded veterans a common sight everywhere?  He was a crack shot and could bring down an antelope at a hundred yards.  Captain Holly, also a veteran cavalryman, was pleased with Ethan for his skill with horses, mules and guns.  The captain cautioned the Swede Jensen against his brash tongue-wagging, but the preacher’s mouth seemed indominable.

Ethan planned to drive his palomino stallion and six mares out West, there to breed quality horses and mules.  With no wagon all his supplies were carried on two pack mules.   He rode his stallion I called Billy and sometimes a little sorrel filly I called Honeybee.  Often, he rode alongside our wagon on mama’s side, often tying his remuda onto our wagon.  At night he slept in the open, but in the rain, he’d bunk beneath our wagon.

Whenever something set my mama off on one of her fits, Ethan would come alongside to calm mama. He’d climb aboard the wagon, bid me to ride his mare then take the traces from mama with one hand and wrap his arm around mama’s shoulder which I reckoned had a mother’s calming effect on her troubled mind, because within just a few moments her head would bow, and the rants become Sunday school hymns softly hummed to herself.  Riding alongside just to his left, I saw Ethan’s profile as normal and most handsome. This is how I came to like him and came to much admire him for his kindness to mama, but also for his quiet strength and his physical comportment.  I cooked for mama and Ethan who kept many of the wagon train’s pots supplied with meat but took his meals with us.  After an evening meal he and mama would sit silently watching the fire die as I cleaned and made ready for bed.  I fancied there was talk that he was sweet on mama, but I did not think this.  His attentions, I believed at the time, were kindness toward another wounded soul.

One night just past Carson Flats was so uncomfortably hot that I opted to sleep under the wagon.  I had been sleeping heavy when close to midnight thunder awakened me as a sudden squall blew across the prairie, and soon Ethan’s bedroll was tossed under the wagon beside me.  Wanting to watch the lightning flashes, I did not climb into the wagon but stayed on the ground where I soon nodded off to sleep.  In the morning I woke to Ethen curled against my back, so warm and comfortable.  I lay still for as long as I could, relishing his touch.  Though when I returned from my morning pee he and his bedroll were gone.  At coffee that morning nothing overt was intimated of our cozy early morning, though I perceived a gleam in his eye.  But all day long I thought about it, and hoped for more rain that night, which did not come.

For the usual reasons rain was wished for by all.  After travelling well into the prairie, no longer were we fording streams.  Cool lush, green springtime had surrendered to hot, dusty, brown summer.  Captain Holly daily sent scouts out to reconnoiter water and provender for the stock.  With the hot dry weather, wheel spokes on our wagon shrunk and cracked.  Wherever we found even the tiniest of streams or springs we would lag behind to soak our wheels to swell and tighten the shriveling much shimmed spokes.  The better wagons, like the Studebakers, were built with seasoned spokes, but our wagon was among the shoddiest in the train and ma and Ethan hoped that there would be a wheelwright at Ft. Laramie to remedy our unsteady wheels.

As we moved further west the threat of attack from hostile Indians grew.  Per Jensen, the worst sort of fear monger, began evening prayer vigils loudly beseeching the god of Swedes to grant safe passage through the lands of Satan’s own children.  Capt. Holly eventually forbid these unsettling scare sessions, but it didn’t stop the fat preacher from spreading fright among the Swede community which constituted most of our company.

It was not uncommon for Pawnee or Osage to ride into the train to beg.  The captain would hand over a ration of coffee or flour from a special store set aside to appease the Indians to get them to quit the train.  Per Jensen advocated shooting any Indians within range.  He protested openly to Capt. Holly, “I can’t never sleep good at night no more thinkin’ ’bout bein’ scalped or gutted.  Don’t you know dem savages is chust lookin’ for to see da best way for to attack the camp.  Maybe shoot one or two, den dey go avay.” You ever t’ink of dat, Captain Holly?”  To Captain Holly’s credit he simply ignored the tiresome preacher.  But truth be told, many of us, myself included were fearful of attack.  Nearly every day Indian riders flanked our train, sometimes demanding payment for passage through their territory.  And woe to the emigrant that failed to hobble his team close in at night, because any stray critter was sure to vanish by morning.  Ultimately is was Per Jensen who upset the careful balance that Capt. Holly had always been able to negotiate with the Indians.  One night near Courthouse Rock the preacher, in the middle of the night, shot an Indian boy.  “Dat devil was tryin’ to steal dem iron pots hangin’ from our wagon!  I seen him in the moonlight.” Ethan ran out to the fallen boy and carried him in.  He had suffered a grazing wound to his leg.  Capt. Holly was furious and called the preacher a goddamn square-head sonofabitch and punched him in the face, knocking the man to the ground.  He then asked the dentist Mr. Poe to dress the boy’s wounded leg while two men held the him down.  While Mr. Poe tended to this the captain ordered the preacher’s pinto mare to be unsaddled.  Once the boy’s leg was bandaged, he and Mr. Poe hefted him onto the horse’s back, and we all watched as the boy rode out of camp holding his iron pot atop his new pony.  Then before the entire company, to the preacher the captain said, “Now you can walk to Oregon, and consider yourself fortunate, for if you had killed that boy, you would be hanging from yon tree right now.  Yes, you would.  And something else.  Think about this: that boy’s people now know who shot him.  You best hope they consider that horse of yours fair trade.  Now hand over that gun and stay outta my sight!” That night the captain doubled the guard.

After the shooting incident everyone was on edge. We were in Sioux territory and at every campfire the talk was of hostiles.  At Fort Kearny a cavalry detachment escorted us all the way to Chimney Rock, but from there to Fort Laramie we depended on ourselves.  Whenever more than a dozen Indians were sighted during the day, the captain ordered all the stock brought within our circle of wagons of an evening.  On these nights Ethan slept under our wagon.  And so, it was between Fort Kearny and Laramie that I fell in love with Ethan Rainwater.  I began sleeping under the wagon every night, and every night secretly sharing a blanket with Ethan who lay against me, often embracing me in his arms and our hands and lips exploring each other in heated passion.  To this day my heart beats faster when I think of those nights on the prairie when our bodies nestled as close as spoons in a drawer.

One morning the preacher accosted Ethan.  From afar I watched as the preacher scowled and argued with Ethan who of a sudden shook a fist in the preacher’s face then spun on his heel and walked away in a huff.  I did not know what the argument was over, but clearly it had enraged my always calm, stoic Ethan who said nothing of the incident. Later that day the preacher approached me and said in a snide whisper that he knew who I was keeping warm at night.  I passed this on the Ethan who indicated that I was not to worry.  Two days later we suffered our first attack.

In Arapaho country we remained constantly on guard under the threat of attack by hostiles.  Despite all precautions several horses had been taken in a night time raid by a dozen swift riders who had shot our night rider’s horse full of arrows.  Ethan showed me one of those arrows, a long reed shaft headed with a beautifully crafted, narrow mottled grey stone point as sharp as a barber’s razor.  That night the guard was doubled, and Ethan assigned the four to-sunrise shift.  It was during his shift that the tragedy of the preacher occurred.  It was later reckoned that just before dawn the preacher had left the circle to relieve himself.  He was found, his pants down, sprawled face down beneath a camphor tree.  The arrow had struck just above his spinal column deep into some vertebrae.  That lethal arrow circulated about camp, examined at every campfire.  It looked identical to the arrow shown me by Ethan.  I would later learn that it was indeed that same arrow.  The bad preacher had threatened to tell the captain that Ethan was taking liberties with me unless he handed over one of his mares, so Ethan killed him with his bare hands then plunged that arrow into that evil man’s neck as if the Indians had had their revenge.  Only a few Swedes grieved.

The last and worst raid happened two weeks later when two dozen riders attacked camp, setting two wagons afire, killing two men, and making off with three small children and several horses.  An Indian bullet ricocheted off a wagon rim striking my ma’s forehead dropping her in an instant like a sack of potatoes, dead before her head touched ground.  This was a terrible time.  We buried my ma in a shallow grave of stony soil then carried rocks from a stream to build a cairn, so wolves and coyotes could not disturb her remains.  Per Jensen, I remembered had been buried shallow with no cairn to stave off wolves.

What had been ma’s wagon became my wagon, but a wagon ready to collapse, and it probably would have within a day or two as nearly every spoke in every wheel was cracked or broken.  Ethan came to the rescue by salvaging wheels from the wagons the Arapaho had burned.  With my ma dead and buried, three families offered to take me in, including Captain and Mrs. Holly, however I asserted that although I was tiny, I had cared for my ma and driven our team half-way across America, and I wasn’t I growed-up enough to make it on my own with God’s help?  Unspoken was that I would rely on Ethan.  However, I could see suspicion in the eyes of some and wondered if our love-making was known or spoken of.  A party of Swedes went to Captain Holly asking him to expel Ethan, claiming him to be an indecent fortune hunter set on possessing my wagon, furniture and me.  Did they suspect that all I cared for was Ethan?  In the cover of darkness our hands and mouths had pleasured each other in throes of ecstasy.  Had we made noise or let our guard down?  Had someone other than Per Jensen spied on us? Had we been seen embracing?  Kissing?  Ethan and I felt besieged.  “We will leave the train,” he wrote in chalk, then “I love you and I want you to be with me always.  These people will bring bad.” I thought my heart would burst.

And so, at Fort Bridger we left Captain Holly’s Westing Oregon train.  There we rested our horses and sold the wagon, the oxen, and all contents to the sutler for gold and supplies.  Without the wagon and the protection of the train we would be on our own, with over a thousand dollars in gold and a remuda of seven horses.  Not only would be likely targets for hostile Indians, but for road agents as well.  But luck was with us.  At Fort Bridger, Ethan offered to serve as hunter for an army topographic unit mapping passes into California.  He would bring in meat for the camp; I would cook.  In late September, just two days ahead of the first heavy snowfall of the season we all descended the mountains into Placerville, from there we drove the remuda into a large unnamed valley with lush grass where we camped for two weeks while the horses fattened, then travelled south into the San Fernando basin.  That first spring we filed two homestead claims.  These became Golden Stallion Horse Ranch.

By 1910 getting older; the large successful ranch was too much for the two of us, so we sold and moved into Los Angeles.  Now at the end of our trails, you may know that the fabulous Grand Palace Hotel was built by two old pioneer lovers, not brothers, lovers.  Until his death Ethan and I were lovers, secret lovers for more than fifty years.


Copyright Gary Ives 2020

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